Monumental Art of Sgang Gwaay

Map of SGang Gwaay Village from Haida Monumental Art.

The house numbers below correspond to the above labelled map.

Language Group or Village

Click on the thumbnails of each monument to view a full-size photograph of it.
(Some photographs do not have a larger image to view)

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House 1: People Think of This House Even When They Sleep Because the Master Feeds Everyone Who Calls

There are no memorial posts or mortuaries directly associated with this house.

Frontal Pole 1

The frontal pole was badly burned, but the base and one watchman survived. The large beaver figure from the base of the frontal pole is displayed in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

Photograph by H. Hawthorn, 1957.
The base as it stands in MOA. Photograph © C. Pilon, 2011.
The base as it stands in MOA. Photograph © C. Pilon, 2011.
Photograph by B. McLennan, 1983.
After the village fire, the face of this interior post can be seen on the far left of the photo, in the background. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Interior Post 1

An interior post depicting a bear with a human face holding its greatly exaggerated tongue stood at the back of the house. It appears to have been carved by the same artist who carved the interior pole of another Raven house at the opposite end of the village (House 17).

House 2

Photograph by G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary 2X1

A badly burned mortuary post which has the figure of a bear at the base with a long extended tongue comparable to the interior post of House 1. Above is the figure of a small bear wearing a potlatch stick with four cylinders, flanked by small watchmen figures. A small human face sits on top backed by the mortuary plaque.

Photograph by G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary Pole 2X2

A burned mortuary post with a part-human, part-bear figure holding a child (possibly representing Bear Mother) surmounted by the figure of a large whale with peg-like teeth, which is similar in style to the whale on 13X1.

House 3

Three houses in anthropologist J. Swanton's list (5-7) belonged to successive chiefs named Ninstints. It is unlikely that each had a separate house lot, and more likely that these houses replaced each other on house lot 3. The first house name has not been recorded, but it belonged to a Ninstints two generations before the last. The next house was called Old House. The last house on this lot, of which remains can still be seen, was called Thunder Rolls upon It.

House 4/5: Grease House

This was a large house 14.7 metres wide by 12.3 metres long, inside of which House 5 was constructed after fire had destroyed this end of the village. The smaller house, 9.3 metres wide by 8.4 metres long, was built within the frame of House 4.

Photograph © G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary 5X1

A burned mortuary post with the large figure of a killer whale with its tail at the top and a separately carved protruding dorsal fin.

Photograph by G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary 5X2

A burned mortuary post with a bear with a protruding tongue above, holding the dorsal fin of a killer whale.

Mortuary 5X3

A burned mortuary post with a grizzly bear carved at the top and a beaver at the bottom.

Photograph by National Film Board of Canada, 1963.

Mortuary 5X4

A burned mortuary post with a bear with a protruding tongue above, holding the dorsal fin of a killer whale.

House 6

This was the only other type 1 house at Ninstints (with House 2). It does not appear ever to have had a frontal pole.

Shown as it stood along the bank - 6X being the shorter of the two monuments. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Shown after being burned with a tree sprouting from the post. Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.

Mortuary 6X

This carved mortuary post had a beaver at the base and an eagle above. The top of the post was badly burnt.

Shown here beside mortuary post 6X. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photograph © Adelaide de Menil, 1968.

Memorial 6M

This tall memorial pole had a grizzly bear at the base.

House 7

It was a small structure, about 9.0 metres square, with support posts that were C-shaped in cross section. Although there is evidence of the base of a frontal pole for this house, it appears to have been destroyed in the fire.

Shown with one of the two attached fins still in place. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Attached fins have both fallen off. You can see the whale's face clearly at the base of the pole. Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.

Mortuary 7X1

On this mortuary was carved a double-finned killer whale with frogs on either side of its flukes. The plain front plaque was probably originally painted.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Detail of the seated human figures from the base of the post. Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.

Mortuary 7X2

This mortuary displayed a carved beaver with four potlatch rings on its head and a painted plaque. At the base of the post are five small, seated human figures.

House 8

The frontal pole was archaic in style with large main crest figures covered by a myriad of small human and animal figures. For example, the large figure at the top had fourteen secondary figures, including four watchmen and three bears on its head and four upside-down human figures and two profile animal figures on its wings and breast. Its feet rested on the head of a seal.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Frontal Pole 8

Crests on the frontal pole:
1. (top) three bears and four watchmen
2. eagle with small human figures upside-down
3. sea grizzly
4. obscured by vegetation

The frontal pole (on the right) appears to have something propping it up. The beak of the eagle (carved separately and attached) has fallen off. Note the interior pole of house 8 standing behind the frontal pole.

Photographs by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Interior Pole 8

A finely carved interior post, an indication of the owner’s high social standing, stood at the back of this house. It had a large human figure at the top holding a chief. The chief wore a dance hat and had in his hands a talking stick. He stood on the head of a raven in transformation, with a beak beneath its human-like nose. The large grizzly bear at the base was devouring a human figure and had small bird faces in its nostrils and small bears in its ears. Although this pole stood at the back of the house there was a round doorway in the stomach of the bear, like a frontal-pole entry.


Standing on the bank in front of House 9. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.

Mortuary 8X

A mortuary post on the slope beneath this house depicts a grizzly bear with it's tongue extended holding two cubs. At the base of the pole is a large face.

House 9

This small, unnamed house, 6.3 metres wide by 5.4 metres long.

Frontal Pole 9 

Crests on the frontal pole: 
1. (top) eagle perched on potlatch cylinder (three rings)
2. likely supernatural snag 
3. whale

4. grizzly bear (frog in mouth)

Stands at the Museum of Anthropology UBC. 

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photograph by Totem Pole Restoration Committee, 1957.
Photograph by C. Pilon, 2011.
Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Shown in a state of decay. Photograph © Adelaide de Menil, ca. 1968.

Memorial 9M1

A tall memorial pole with a grizzly bear at the base. A seal was depicted between the ears of the bear.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Memorial 9M2

A small memorial pole which was possibly attached to a mortuary house stood behind House 9. It depicted a killer whale with a tall dorsal at the top and a grizzly bear at the base.

 

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photograph © Adelaide de Menil, 1968.

Mortuary 9X

A mortuary post on the slope in front of this house depicted a grizzly bear at the base. Frogs emerged from the bear’s ears, and between the ears was a whale devouring a man.

House 10

People Wish to be There House, which measured 11.1 metres wide by 9.3 metres long, belonged to Chief Wada of the Striped Town People who had settled at Ninstints from their old town, Qadadjans, at the northern end of Anthony Island. The door of the house, which was named separately “Door that makes a noise when it falls back”, was owned by the wife’s family, Those Born in the Southern Part of the Islands.

Frontal Pole 10

Crests on the frontal pole:
1. (top) three watchmen
2. eagle
3. cormorant
4. supernatural snag
5. whale

Mortuary 10X

Mortuary 10X On a mortuary on the slope in front of the house was a carved grizzly bear with a cub between its legs and small human figures in its ears. It stood on the head of an unusual figure obscured by vegetation.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901
Photographs © Adelaide de Menil, 1967.
Photographs © Adelaide de Menil, 1967.

House 11: Driving a Weasel House

Driving a Weasel House was so named because when the house was under construction one of the planks slid down endwise on the ground and a weasel ran out from under it. This small house was 8.7 metres wide and 9.15 metres long.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Frontal Pole 11

Crests on the frontal pole:
1. (top) three watchmen
2. eagle
3. cormorant
4. thunderbird in human form
5. whale

Mortuary 11X

A mortuary post depicting a thunderbird with a face between its wings.

Shown with beak still attached. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photograph © Adelaide de Menil, 1968.
Detail of face between wings. Photograph by G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

House 12: Mountain House

Mountain House belonged to the chief of Those Born in the Southern Part of the Islands. It was a large house measuring 13.2 metres wide by 13.5 metres long. 

Photograph by W. Duff, 1957.

Frontal Pole 12

Crests on the frontal pole:
1. (top) three watchmen
2. cormorant
3. grizzly bear with a large, curiously carved head between its legs. It has large round eyes and appears to be most like a supernatural snag, perhaps indicating that this is a sea grizzly.
4. grizzly bear with a frog in its mouth

This pole is now in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

 

Shown here behind 10X and 11X. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
12X is on the right, in the background. Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Mortuary 12X

A mortuary which depicted a grizzly bear stood on the lower slope in front of House 12.  A high dorsal fin with a small human figure at the base was added to the top of the plaque, which suggests that the original decoration on the plaque was probably a painting of a killer whale.

House 13

This unnamed house which belonged to Those Born at the Southern Part of the Islands, stood directly in front of House 12. It was 10.8 metres wide and 8.7 metres long.

Frontal Pole 13

The crests on the frontal pole:

1. eagle with three potlatch cylinders on its head, and between its wings a small face with three potlatch cylinders
2. cormorant
3. beaver
4. bear eating a man

The house frontal pole, which was removed in 1939 and taken to Prince Rupert, is now in the British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photographer & year unknown.
Photograph © Adelaide de Menil, 1968.
Photograph by G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary 13X1

This mortuary had an ornately carved post depicting a killer whale with prominent triangular teeth, and a small human figure between its fin and tail. On its head was a small whale with three potlatch cylinders. The front plaque was probably painted.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Mortuary 13X2

A plain mortuary post.

House 14

According to Newcombe, this unnamed house of Those Born in the Southern Part of the Islands belonged to Timothy Tait. It measured 10.8 metres wide by 9.0 metres long.

Photograph by W. Duff, 1957.

Frontal Pole 14

Crests on the frontal pole:
1. (top) three watchmen
2. eagle with a face on its tail
3. fat frog with five potlatch cylinders. The cylinders form a simultaneous image of the frog’s backbone and the vertical axis, sometimes figured as the backbone of an ancestor.
4. thunderbird in transitional form embracing a small human figure
5. whale

The frontal pole was taken to the Royal British Columbia Museum in 1957.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Unknown photographer and year.

Mortuary 14X1

This mortuary post was carved with a large grizzly bear holding a frog between its paws, with another frog between its ears.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.
Photograph by W. Duff, 1957.

Mortuary 14X2

This large carved mortuary depicted an eagle standing on a seal. The front plaque was plain.


House 15

This small house, 7.8 metres long, belonged to Those Born at Songs of Victory Town. According to Duff and Kew, it had four half-round support posts, which had fallen completely when Newcombe photographed the village. The mortuaries and memorials in front of this house were both numerous and well carved, suggesting that a more substantial house once stood on this site. The most elaborate mortuary has a moon crest, which was a prerogative of the house family. It is possible that this house site belonged to Koyah.

Photographer and year unknown.

Mortuary 15X1

This mortuary had a carved post depicting a sea grizzly holding in its mouth a seal wearing potlatch cylinders. At the base and in the ears of the sea grizzly were small human figures; between its ears was a raven’s head. The front plaque was plain.

Photographer and year unknown.

Mortuary 15X2

This mortuary, with a hawk-and-moon front plaque, was fully carved. The main figure on the support post was a grizzly bear, and above it a killer whale eating a man. The head of the man was upside down, and his arms emerged from the bear’s ears. This pole was removed to Victoria in 1957 without the plaque, which had disappeared many years before.

This pole now stands in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

Shown behind the memorial pole on the left. Photographer and year unknown.

Mortuary 15X3

On the support post of this mortuary was the figure of a beaver holding a frog.

Photographer and year unknown.

Memorial 15M1

This short memorial pole depicted a seated human figure wearing a chief’s hat. This memorial pole was purchased by the Totem Pole Preservation Committee and moved to the Royal BC Museum, Victoria in 1957.

Located in front of the mortuary on the left. Photographer and year unknown.

Memorial 15M2

The human figure on this pole was identical to 15M1. This memorial pole was purchased by the Totem Pole Preservation Committee and moved to the Royal BC Museum, Victoria in 1957.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Manda 15MA

This manda of a bear sat directly to the east of 15X2. In most photographs, its ears can just be distinguished above the vegetation.

House 16

This unnamed house of unknown dimensions had a fine frontal pole that was taken to Prince Rupert in 1939. The house belonged to Those Born in the Southern Parts of the Islands.

On the far right. Photographer and year unknown.

Frontal Pole 16

Crests on the frontal pole: 
1. (top) three watchmen
2. eagle with a human face on its tail
3. cormorant with a small human figure between its ears
4. supernatural snag embracing a human figure
5. grizzly bear

Mortuary 16X1

Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.

Mortuary 16X2

A carved mortuary post with a grizzly bear devouring a seal.

Photograph by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.
Photograph by G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary 16X3

A mortuary post with a grizzly bear with two human faces on its paws.

House 17 Raven House

Raven House was a house name brought from Kaidsu, on the west coast of Moresby Island. This large house, 11.85 metres wide and 12.0 metres long, stood on swampy ground. Both the interior pole and the frontal pole from House 17 were removed to Victoria in 1957.

Photographs by C.M. Barbeau, 1947.

Frontal Pole 17

Crests on the frontal pole: 
1. (top) watchmen 

2. raven in transition into human form. Beak shows beneath the human nose. The wings of the raven extend up, enveloping the watchman. 

3. bear-like story figure with hole in the mouth, perhaps for attaching an extra carved piece. Frogs emerge from mouth sides. Figure embraces a raven and two human figures.

4. human with skirt of five inverted figures and in her arms two smaller figures. The nose of the large human figure has been slotted to receive an attachment. 

5. grizzly bear devouring a human being. Entry hole is carved through the stomach of the bear.

Photograph by H. Hawthorne, 1957.
© C. Pilon, 2011.

Interior Pole 17

At the back was an interior house post with a human figure embracing a hawk and a bear cub, at the top, and a bear embracing a human figure at the base. Small frogs emerged from the bear’s ears. This pole probably represents the Bear Mother myth. In concept and style, it is similar to the interior pole in House 8. Both the interior pole and the frontal pole from House 17 were removed to Victoria in 1957.

This pole is now in the Museum of Anthropology at UBC.

Photograph by C.F. Newcombe, 1901.

Mortuary Pole 17X

A plain mortuary.

Other Monuments

Photograph © Adelaide de Menil, 1968.
Photograph © G.F. MacDonald, 1969.

Mortuary 18X

The mortuary post (18X) depicts a grizzly bear holding a human figure.

There is no evidence of a house on the swampy ground at the north end of the village, although a mortuary post in this area may indicate that other houses may once have stood there. Swanton lists a house in this position which belonged to the Pebble Town Eagles.


Photographer(s) and year(s) unknown.

Shaman Grave

On the small island which faces Ninstints village was a shaman grave with two guardian figures facing the water at either corner.

Textual Information for this page: W. Duff & M. Kew, 1958; G.F. MacDonald, 1983; Swanton, 1909.